Marine Terminal must go

July 6th, 2022 by Ken

By Joe Illing

(The following story appeared in The Jolt News earlier this week.)

I own a small commercial property in downtown Olympia, a short
walk from the port peninsula’s Marine Terminal (what most of us
call “the port”). Needless to say, over the years I’ve taken a keen
interest in what happens there, or what doesn’t happen there.

My point of view concerning the peninsula that’s distinctly
different from those who work for, or receive funds from, the Port
of Olympia. They see the Marine Terminal as one of the big
pistons that drive Thurston County’s economic engine. They
shower us with facts, figures, charts and statistics in order to
validate their assertion that the terminal bestows upon us a
bounty of invaluable benefits.

These include five-hundred and sixty-four jobs “associated” with
the terminal (that means some are essentially part-time). They
point to a $135,000 annual profit as proof of the terminal’s health
… if you don’t count “depreciation” and pretend equipment and
buildings last forever, or that a profit margin of a few thousandths
of a percent on “business revenue” of $33,000,000 is laudatory.

All of this information, however, is essentially useless if we’re to
assess the value of the terminal to the general population. It
compares apples to apples and fails to ask the single most
important question concerning the Marine Terminal … does
it meet the needs of post-industrial Olympia? Does it add to,
inhibit or subtract from the public good?

The Marine Terminal occupies a priceless piece of geography, a
peninsula that juts out into the headwaters of Budd Inlet, offering
unparalleled vistas of snowcapped mountains rising out of the
sound. Its shoreline invites incomparable recreational
opportunities. Urban amenities are within a short, easy walk. It’s
truly what the old timers called “The Pearl of the Puget Sound.”

Yet, in spite of its beauty and its unique attributes, and in spite of
a century-long evolution of the community it serves, the terminal
remains stuck in a 19th century mindset … and we use it for a log
dump. It’s like defacing the Mona Lisa.

The Marine Terminal is a vestige of Thurston County’s industrial
past. Over the ninety-five years since the Port of Olympia was
formally chartered, that era has vanished. The peninsula once
hosted thirty lumber mills, five shingle mills, a veneer factory, a
cannery and numerous ship builders.

It was a busy, productive place with plenty of living wage jobs that
generated big ripples in the local economy.

Those days are long gone. All that remains is what’s
called a “weekend port” in maritime lingo (that translates as
“small potatoes”). It has a marina, a children’s museum, a
tragically wrong-placed sewer treatment plant, a couple of fancy
office buildings and a farmer’s market, all of which surround its
once vibrant, beating heart … today’s “log dump,” a mechanized
no-man’s land where monstrous machines belch diesel fumes
while tossing around whole forests of logs like pick-up sticks.

Is this responsible stewardship of a singular asset like the
peninsula? I think not. It’s long since time to consider

To see one such alternative just drive north to Granville Island
in Vancouver, BC. The similarities between it and our port
peninsula are striking.
• They both share an industrial past.
• They both dredged their surrounding waters and expanded
their land mass with its fill from 1911 through 1915.
• They both welcomed manufacturing industries in the early
1920s and prospered through a couple of world wars well
into mid-century.

Then new economies, new methods of transportation and new
ways of doing business changed old business models. And that’s
when the shared destinies of these two entities diverged.
In the 1970s the Canadians decided to bid adieu to the industrial
use of the island and welcomed market activities. Today Granville
Island, with half the land mass of the port peninsula, is alive with
activity … and prosperity. Today that island boasts 275 businesses
that employ more than 2,500 people. It generates more than
$215,000,000 in economic activity each year, and fills
Vancouver’s tax coffers to overflowing.

The Port of Olympia’s Marine Terminal, however, stuck with its
out of date business model. It posts predictably
disappointing results annually. If you compare our peninsula with
Vancouver’s Granville Island you must inevitably conclude that
the terminal is not serving its community well.

It’s time to close the books on the Marine Terminal and develop
the peninsula to the benefit of all. Surround it with marinas and
other maritime uses, provide access to Budd Inlet for all citizens
of Thurston County, create housing for those who want to reurbanize

and turn the un-peopled port of today into a

vibrant neighborhood that contributes in a meaningful way to the
economic and cultural health of our community.

It’s time the Port Commissioners exercised their fiduciary
responsibility to the citizens and taxpayers of Thurston County
and take a critical look at the peninsula and unlock its
matchless potential. It’s time for them to answer this simple
question … does the Marine Terminal represent the “highest and
best” use of the peninsula?

If not, it’s time to begin the transformation of the terminal from
artifact of an industrial past to icon of a dynamic future. It can,
and should, be done.

Posted in The Real News

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